KABUL, Afghanistan -- The Taliban are banning women from using gyms in Afghanistan, an official in Kabul said Thursday, the religious group's latest edict cracking down on women's rights and freedoms since they took power more than a year ago.
The Taliban overran the country last year, seizing power in August 2021. They have banned girls from middle school and high school, despite initial promises to the contrary, restricted women from most fields of employment, and ordered them to wear head-to-toe clothing in public.
A spokesman from the Ministry of Virtue and Vice said the ban was being introduced because people were ignoring gender segregation orders and that women were not wearing the required headscarf, or hijab. Women are also banned from parks.
The ban on women using gyms and parks came into force this week, according to Mohammed Akef Mohajer, a Taliban-appointed spokesman for the Ministry of Virtue and Vice.
The group has “tried its best” over the past 15 months to avoid closing parks and gyms for women, ordering separate days of the week for male and female access or imposing gender segregation, he said.
“But, unfortunately, the orders were not obeyed and the rules were violated, and we had to close parks and gyms for women,” said Mohajer. “In most cases, we have seen both men and women together in parks and, unfortunately, the hijab was not observed. So we had to come up with another decision and for now we ordered all parks and gyms to be closed for women."
Taliban teams will begin monitoring establishments to check if women are still using them, he said.
A female personal trainer told The Associated Press that women and men were not exercising or training together before at the Kabul gym where she works.
“The Taliban are lying,” she insisted, speaking on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals. “We were training separately.
On Thursday, she said two men claiming to be from the Ministry of Virtue and Vice entered her gym and made all the women leave.
“The women wanted to protest about the gyms (closing) but the Taliban came and arrested them," she added. “Now we don’t know if they’re alive or dead.”
Taliban-appointed Kabul police chief spokesman Khalid Zadran said he had no immediate information about women protesting gym closures or arrests.
The U.N. special representative in Afghanistan for women, Alison Davidian, condemned the ban. “This is yet another example of the Taliban’s continued and systematic erasure of women from public life,” she said. "We call on the Taliban to reinstate all rights and freedoms for women and girls.”
Hard-liners appear to hold sway in the Taliban-led administration, which struggles to govern and remains internationally isolated. An economic downturn has driven millions more Afghans into poverty and hunger as the flow of foreign aid has slowed to a trickle.
Kabul-based women’s rights activist Sodaba Nazhand said the bans on gyms, parks, work, and school would leave many women wondering what was left for them in Afghanistan.
“It is not just a restriction for women, but also for children,” she said. “Children go to a park with their mothers, now children are also prevented from going to the park. It’s so sad and unfair.”